Warriors survive another round of injuries behind depth

Adrian Dy on Jun 03, 2019 02:02 PM
Warriors survive another round of injuries behind depth
FILE - Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala, center, is defended by Portland Trail Blazers forwards Meyers Leonard, left, and Maurice Harkless during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA basketball playoffs Western Conference finals Saturday, May 18, 2019, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Stephen Curry knows you're all tired of it, that sports cliche, that kumbaya Kerr mantra, holding hands because it's A Small World after all motivational speaker chestnut.

When "strength in numbers" first popped up as the Golden State Warriors' Playoffs slogan in 2015, it seemed appropriate because no one knew exactly who the Warriors were beyond 'a bunch of guys that shot a lot of three's.' But since then, we've come to know exactly who they are, and headed into this season, it was clear: They're an All-Star starting five, with a Finals MVP coming off the bench, and some big question marks after that.

Curry vehemently disagrees though.

"It's not something you just throw out there to have nice shirts and give out to the crowd at Oracle and have all this marketing stuff," Curry pointedly said following game 2 of the 2019 NBA Finals. "It's literally how we approach every day from training camp to June, how we support each other, how guys stay ready throughout the year, whether they play...30 minutes or miss 10 straight games out of the rotation.

"Coach always talks about it, that everybody's going to have a chance to help us win a championship at some point, and just to stick with it and be patient. We need three more wins and we need to keep going, but that's [strength in numbers] a part of who we are, in our DNA. It's not just what we say."

This was supposed to be the Warriors' easiest trip to another championship. "The Death Lineup" had been upgraded to "The Hamptons Five" and then again to "Five All-Stars," but injuries kept getting in the way. First it was DeMarcus Cousins in Game 2 of the opening round, followed by Kevin Durant in Game 5 of the conference semifinals, and then Andre Iguodala's calf at the end of the Finals opener. And through it all, the Warriors have had to keep going back to the well, to that bench full of question marks.

And wouldn't you know it, those question marks keep becoming exclamation points.

"You need your bench, no matter what, but in particular when you've got a lot of injuries." Coach Kerr said in the postgame. "So we'll just continue to go to those guys and trust them, and they have prove that they can really help us."

The Warriors trailed, 59-54, at the half, then opened the third with a shot clock violation, not exactly the best portent of what was to come. But Kawhi Leonard missed a three-pointer on the other end, and then Klay Thompson found Andre Iguodala for an 18-footer, and the Warriors were off to the races. Draymond Green came up with a swipe on Danny Green, which became a Curry floater. Leonard missed anew, DeMarcus Cousins scooped up the rebound, then found Iguodala, this time for a triple, a go-ahead triple, to be exact. Toronto sued for time, but Golden State was rolling. The initial seven-point burst became an 18-0 stomping, and then it was just a matter of holding onto the lead until the final buzzer.

Hanging onto a 13-point cushion with a quarter and a half to go should in theory be easy for the defending champions, but it wasn't.

Kevon Looney landed hard late in the second quarter and was subsequently ruled out of the game with a bruised collarbone. Thompson came up hobbling just under eight minutes remaining in the game with a strained calf. Kevin Durant was watching anew from the locker room, still having yet to make his 2019 Finals debut.

But there it was, "strength in numbers."

With Looney out, Kerr tapped Andrew Bogut to relieve Cousins, and the former number one overall pick punished the Raptors defense with a trio of lobs. Even prior to Thompson's exit, Quinn Cook was lighting it up from three, a fact that allowed Golden State to keep him on the floor and make the Raptors think very hard about leaving him open. And appropriately enough, the game came down to two of the Warriors OG reserves, who helped birth "Strength in Numbers" in the first place: Shaun Livingston was a half-second faster to an errant Curry pass than Leonard, and he whipped the ball to a wide-open Iguodala, who had all day to shoot a three-pointer.

Reporters zoomed in on that fact in the post-game, because by the numbers, it wasn't that horrible a decision in the abstract. Coming into this one Iguodala was 0-of-11 on three-pointers. The last time he made one was in the Houston series.

"We wanted to see it [the ball] in our hands," said Kawhi Leonard when asked if they wanted to see Iguodala in that situation. "No, we wanted to get a steal."

"I think would we like to have contested that a little bit more? Probably, yeah, but I think obviously we had a little bit more focus on Steph," pointed out Fred VanVleet.

"Probably should have fouled before that," Raptors coach Nick Nurse conceded. "I think if they're going to take a shot and give you a chance there, I'm going to probably live with the one that ended up being taken."

Iguodala nailed it, lifting the Warriors in a fourth quarter where remarkably, Stephen Curry failed to take a single shot attempt, the result of a box-and-one defense sprung on him by the home team.

"I got confidence and faith in everybody that sets foot out there on the floor and they have the same in me," Curry concluded. "Whoever is out there contributing and playing will get the job done and have fun doing it."

Strength in numbers indeed.

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